Could the southernmost acre of city property where Library Park and the Manteca Library are located be the key for a game changing project for downtown?
It is a question city leaders will first debate behind closed doors on Tuesday.
The Manteca City Council is being asked to start the process to answer the question by declaring two parcels of property the city owns as surplus.
*A southern 1-acre portion of 2.58 acres at 320 W. Center Street that would not involve the library, parking lot, or apparently the northern portion of Library Park proper.
*The 8.51 acres remaining of 10 acres the city originally bought in 2013 and has since sold two segments of it for the development of the four-story, 101-room Staybridge Suites now under construction on Daniels Street east of Airport Way and for part of the Sizzler parking lot.
First, more about the 8.51 acres
Given its proximity to the Family Entertainment Zone (FEZ) and prominent freeway visibility, the city has received considerable interest from commercial and hotel developers for the sale and development of the parcel.
The land is part of 56 acres bought in 1966 for potential use for land disposal of treated wastewater.
The city in 2019 entertained proposals from developers to build a multi-story Class A office building on the 8.51 acres but got no bites.
Since then, the pandemic has decreased the demand for office space as more firms have adopted hybrid work weeks where a large share of employees will work from home for several or more days.
The downtown acre has different dynamics.
The city apparently has been approached by a private sector concern to use that specific land for a commercial endeavor.
The reason that is likely to be the case: The city has no legal authority to simply discuss whether land it owns should be declared surplus. Under state law, though, if they are discussing setting possible price or negotiating details such discussions can be taken away from the public’s eye just like with personnel matters and litigation.
However, before any action can be finalized — if a decision is made — it must be done at an open meeting where the public can have input.
The staff memo accompanying the closed door item references the “city’s continuing effort to revitalize the downtown area and attract investment in the downtown core, promoting this property for commercial development may act as a catalyst for attracting new restaurant or entertainment uses that increase the shopping and dining traffic in downtown.”
The acre likely includes the gazebo and interactive waterplay feature.
Library Park vision
sunk by homeless
Fourteen years ago, work started on the expansion of Library Park that was seen by the Vision 2020 task force in 1998 as a way to convert the park into a community gathering place.
It included ripping out Acacia Street from the edge of the library parking lot to where it connected with Manteca Avenue.
The additional land was used to give the park a complete makeover. The additions included two playground areas, the interactive water play feature, bocce carts, murals, restrooms, and a replacement gazebo.
The idea was to expand on not just street fairs that are held twice a year but a growing number of lower key community gatherings that had started in use the park in the first decade of this century for everything from Cinco de Mayo celebrations, car shows and gatherings like Art in the Park targeted at children and Veterans Day ceremonies cameronites to farmers markets and occasional musical performances. It was also used occasionally for weddings.
Library Park did indeed become a gathering place — but for the homeless.
And while the city was able to be within the law by prohibiting the homeless sleeping overnight in the park as it is closed to everyone overnight regardless of housing status, they can’t do anything about the homeless simply hanging out in the park during the day.
Manteca have addressed illegal activity such as drug use and continue to do so whether it involves the homeless or anyone else at Library Park.
How things went sideways was the growth of the homeless problem.
The homeless for at least 30 plus years have always gravitated to Library Park. Even after the park reopened in 2010 there were homeless there.
The numbers — just like in the rest of California — were much smaller 13 years ago.
Since 2010, the homeless for better or worst created a non-family friendly image for Library Park.
Organized events such as the street fairs and Christmas parades prompted the homeless not to hang out for the duration of those activities due to their tendency to shun places that have a steady presence of people.
The homeless haven image forced weekly and monthly events such as farmers markets and summer musical events to stop using Library Park as attendance suffered because of the perception.
Today, such events take place in the 100 block of North Maple Avenue.
Excerpt for the Watermelon Festival and Pumpkin Fair, the gazebo is not used for other community gatherings. But it is almost on all of the remaining 357 days used as a de facto daytime haunt for the homeless.
It is a year-round favorite for the homeless as it offers shelter during rainy days.
If the city can snare a high traffic user such as a restaurant that would require the removal of the gazebo, not only could it help spur more downtown investment but it likely would reduce the daytime presence of homeless in the central district.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org